Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Process of the Change of the Political System in Hungary; Deepening Crisis, Emerging Opposition

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Process of the Change of the Political System in Hungary; Deepening Crisis, Emerging Opposition

Article excerpt

By the 1980's, Hungary was experiencing serious economic difficulties: negative economic indices were multiplying; a trap of debts was closing around the country and Western loans obtained for the modernization of the economy did not change the outdated economic mechanism. Neither productivity, nor the export of goods had improved. The unfavorable balance of trade and finances could only be handled by the acquisition of further loans. The standard of living, achieved at the time of economic growth, could be maintained only through an ever increasing foreign indebtedness. A looming social crisis also appeared on the horizon; previous standards of living for part of the population could be maintained only by self-exploitation. Indices of public health and ratios of births and deaths worsened; a chronic demographic decline became a reality.

However, the political leaders denied the facts of the crisis; they spoke of symptoms and exaggerated public consciousness of crisis but, in fact, general dissatisfaction was on the rise and disquiet was spreading among the population.

The formerly marginalized opposition to the regime now became more active. By the end of the 1980's a new alternative elite emerged, strengthened by organizational and ideological affinities, one that was capable of becoming a competitor of the ruling party elites and force the latter into power sharing. This brought about a crisis of legitimacy which sooner or later was to make the complete transformation of the political system unavoidable, and it soon was to have the support of the masses.

The deepening crisis resulted in a gradual clarification of aims and goals of the opposition and a true political pluralism began to emerge. In the process of seeking a way out of the crisis, the national democrats and the circles of the democratic opposition, those who "were thinking differently," discovered each other. Intellectuals who were worried about the state of the country and were conscious of their social responsibility met at Monor for the first time in 1985 and discussed the conditions of the country. They voiced strong criticisms of the situation and sought a way out of the crisis. At the Monor conference all the important oppositional groups were represented, including the "generation of 1956" (Ferenc Donath and Miklos Vasarhelyi), the populist writers (Sandor Csoori and Istvan Csurka) and the democratic opposition (Janos Kis, Janos Kenedi and Miklos Szabo). They conferred with economic reformers, represented by Tamas Bauer and Mihaly Laki.

The expanding limits of possibilities became known only gradually, but they were uneven and unequal in logic. After all, the existing order had still been in place and it retained and controlled all means of power and the limits of its toleration were not yet clear, nor were the influences of international factors widely known. In addition, declarations of programs by various political platforms were frequent. In 1986, a group of economists (Laszlo Antal, Lajos Bokros, Istvan Csillag, Laszlo Lengyel and Gyorgy Matolcsi) published their program, entitled Change and Reform. Their aim was to offer a solution for the economic crisis by advocating a transformation leading to the establishment of a market economy, which they considered to be the only alternative.

Political demands included the need for the establishment of free trade unions, limited political pluralism and free, open, democratic public discussions. These proposals were widely debated at meetings of the Patriotic People's Front and--with the exclusion of the issue of open public discussions--they were officially published; this acted as a catalyst for further exchanges dealing with the proposed direction of the necessary transformation.

The opposition showed liberal tendencies and adopted tactics developed by Adam Michnik in Poland. They did not openly proclaim the aim to overthrow the [communist] regime; this would have meant a bloody conflict and would also have carried the danger of failure. …

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